Dr. John F. Murray is often interviewed about the challenges of playing golf at a high level, and has often stated that golf is the most difficult sport mentally. Golf psychology has grown into a major area of consulting. While other sports like soccer, football, and even tennis allow a physical outlet and engage many more basic physical needs such as endurance, speed and the ability to take a hit physically, the challenge in golf is immense because the time of hitting the ball is so short compared with the 99.9% of other time spent getting ready for that big moment of ball contact. In short, the golfer, like the athlete in shooting sports, is faced with a lot more down time or potential distractions in between shots. At least that is one way to describe it, and there are many.
Issues Frequently Seen in Golf: Perfectionism, Anxiety on the first tee, Staying focused over the entire 18 holes, Solid preshot routines.
The bottom line is that golf down here in South Florida is huge. As I write this article, we are getting ready for the Honda Classic at the famous PGA National Resort just a few miles up from my office in North Palm Beach. Go into any Subway or other fast food restaurant, and you are sure to bump into a famous golfer or golf coach this week. It is fun and exciting to feel the buzz about this great sport and all the energy.
Back to the challenges of golf. There is no question that golfers, more than any other athletes, realized a long time ago the need for mental training and sports psychology. Lots of good books were written about golf psychology and several gurus emerged as prominent. Now there are many good sports psychologists who work with golfers including Dr. John F Murray.
Over the past 25 years the attitude among pro golfers toward sports psychology has totally changed. In the past, if a golfer admitted to going to a sports psychologist for help, he or she was called weird or strange. Nowadays, if they do not have a solid sports psychologist as part of their training team, they are called weird! How times have changed!
Golfers, like any athlete, are unique individuals but they do have some interesting characteristics that Dr. Murray has observed over the years. They tend to have more perfectionism than other athletes, they have enormous patience and attention to detail to spend the time needed on the course every week, and they usually have some kind of attraction to difficult situations. Can you think of many challenges more difficult than putting that little ball in the cup!
To work well with golfers, Dr. Murray always begins with a thorough sports psychology evaluation that looks at all the key areas both on and off the course. Once this is done, the work takes place to remove obstacles and distractions impairing performance and/or well-being, and the purpose of this work is to ultimately score better. There are many situational elements to consider such as the type of shot, distance, and setting, and being able to clearly articulate the greatest needs is critical to helping any golfer.
Another approach that often works well is a scientific study of psychological factors that coincide with better and worse golf performance. Dr. John F Murray, after teaching the needed mental skills and dealing with the golfer on an individual basis to improve, often starts the golfer on a data collection journey that can be exciting and revealing as it uses empirical data and actual results to suggest needed changes.
The difference between shooting on average a 71 or a 71.50 is often huge. The golfer needs to realize that sports psychology works well but he or she needs to be patient in working gradually toward an overall lower score. There are often some techniques that can help reduce the score average initially, but then it becomes harder and harder to make those subtle and consistent changes to reduce the average even further. For example, a golfer shooting 74.5 on average might lower their score to 73 after a solid mental coaching program, but in continuing to work together the move toward 72.5 might take a lot longer. That is to be expected.
Remember, golf is the most challenging sport mentally! Keep your head up, get some help, and you will slowly but surely destroy whatever is getting in your way mentally to at least make this part of your game a strength rather than a liability. Don’t neglect your swing coach or the need for great physical technique, but definitely don’t ignore the psychological aspects as well!